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Body Heat is good enough to make film noir play like we hadn't seen it before,
This review is from: Body Heat [DVD]  (DVD)
Written and Directed by Lawrence Kasdan Body Heat (1981) exploits the personal style of it's stars to insinuate itself. Body Heat is a movie about a woman who gets a man to commit murder for her. Kathleen Turner who in her debut role played a woman so sexually confident that we can believe her lover (William Hurt) could be dazed into doing almost anything for her.
Women are rarely allowed to be bold and devious in the movies; most directors are men, and they see women as goals, prizes, enemies, lovers and friends, but rarely as protagonists. Turner's entrance in Body Heat announces that she is the film's center of power. It is a hot, humid night in Florida. Hurt, playing a cocky (but lazy) lawyer named Ned Racine, is strolling on a pier where a band is listlessly playing. He is behind the seated audience. We can see straight down the center aisle to the bandstand. All is dark and red and orange. Suddenly a woman in white stands up, turns around and walks straight toward him. This is Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). To see her is to need her. "You're not too smart," Matty tells Ned at their first meeting. "I like that in a man."
Matty is trapped in comfortable domesticity, married to a wealthy land speculator (Richard Crenna). But her ambition is "to be rich and live in an exotic land." The insurance money that would be hers with her husband's death represents air fare to that dream world. And Ned: lousy lawyer, good pal, nice guy & week-end stud may prove to be her passport.
Turner in her first movie role was an intriguing original. Slender, with hair down to her shoulders. Hurt was still unfamiliar: a tall, indolently handsome man with a certain lazy arrogance to his speech, as if amused by his own intelligence. It is important that the man not be a dummy; he needs to be smart enough to think of the plan himself. One of the brilliant touches of Kasdan's screenplay is the way he makes Ned Racine think he is the initiator of Matty Walker's plans.
Few movies have done a better job of evoking the weather (where performers routinely complain about how warm they are). The characters here are constantly in heat; there is a scene where Ned comes home, takes off his shirt and stands in front of the open refrigerator. The film opens with an inn burning in the distance ("Somebody's torched it to clear the lot," Ned says. "Probably one of my clients.") There are other fires. There is the use of the colour red. There is the sense that heat inflames passion and encourages madness and lust. Perhaps evoking pornographic connotations. The film and the other characters sweat with Matty Walker. Perspiration stains the satin sheets as Ned and Matty make love; and after, there is dew on the down of her back as she caresses and coaxes him - leading Ned on by his lust toward acts of passion and murder.
In many movies, the killers use self-justification and rationalisation to talk themselves into murder. There is a chilling scene where Ned flatly tells Matty: "That man is gonna die for no reason but...we want him to."
The plot and its double-crosses are of course part of the pleasure, I found the final pay-off less rewarding than the diabolical setup. The closing scenes are obligatory. The last scene that works as drama is the one where Ned suggests to Matty that she go get the glasses in the boathouse, and then she pauses on the lawn to tell him, "Ned, whatever you think...I really do love you."
Does she? That's what makes the movie so intriguing. Does he love her, for that matter? Or is he swept away by sexual intoxication - body heat?
Body Heat is good enough to make film noir play like we hadn't seen it before.